Are You Designing for Usability or Sales?, Part 3

  |  January 23, 2004   |  Comments

Usability's important, but it's not essential to a commercial Web site's success. Part 3 in a series.

The last couple columns discussed the need to develop archetypical fictional characters, called personas, who represent your buying audience. We use personas to plan the click-through-experience models, or persuasion scenarios, each persona will have on the Web site. We must allow for multiple personas to reach many of the same pages, but must separately address their needs.

Before designing a single pixel or writing a single word, get a feel for the experience personas will have navigating the site with the wireframe. Spend time up front planning the hyperlinks and the words around them, to be sure each page the personas visit will be relevant to satisfying their needs and answer their questions, moving them one step further in the buying process.

Today, I offer example character biographies of four incomplete (not the final deliverable) personas who all want to attend the upcoming Search Engine Strategies (SES) Conference in New York. (Disclaimer: These are not the actual personas used for the SES site; I made them up for illustration purposes.)

In an atypical example, I've purposely named each personas Janet Smith. They're all college-educated, single women aged 33-36. They have annual incomes of $65,000-$75,000 and work in marketing. They all live on the same block in downtown Manhattan and work in the same building in midtown Manhattan. They've been using the Web for several years and are proficient in all Microsoft Office applications. They use Internet Explorer as their default browser on 17in. monitors set at 1,024 x 768 and use high speed connections.

From a traditional user-centered design (UCD) perspective, these four personas could be regarded as identical. They share the same demographics. And they share the same goals: visiting the New York SES Web site and attending the conference.

Persona #1: Janet Smith

Janet, a 36-year-old marketing director, works for an Internet company that licenses data to manufacturers on a business-to-business (B2B) basis. The company powers comparison channel sites and well-known manufacturer sites. In addition, it powers all the comparison data at popular industry research sites.

Janet makes judgments decisively. She wanted the site to generate more revenue, so she introduced the business-to-consumer (B2C) concept to run the Web site as a profit center. Results have been great. Revenue for channel and manufacturing sites is about $5 million, with 90 percent of that generated from the B2B channels. But B2C is rising.

Janet's main challenge is search engines' inability to effectively spider the sites. She understands a site requires optimization (SEO) for search engines. But because the channel sites are dynamic, Janet wants help understanding exactly how to get them indexed. She has discretionary money in her budget to attend conferences but must make sure her assistant can reach her while she's gone.

She has a secondary motivation to attend the conference. She wants to meet some of her favorite industry experts, such as Danny Sullivan, Frederick Marckini, and yours truly. Deep down, she's really hoping for some good face time with SES's most eligible bachelor, Mr. Marckini.

Persona #2: Janet Smith

Janet's 35 years old and runs Internet marketing for a medium-sized click-and-mortar retailer. The company sells products to a niche market and has been in business 10 years. It's been profitable from the beginning. Last year, it finally decided to build an e-commerce site. The site also offers a few exclusive product lines for testing before they're rolled out in stores.

Janet's assembled a team of energetic young people to develop and maintain the site. The site's done reasonably well in search engines, because Janet works with the content and IT people to focus more on the customer and less on the technology. But with growing competition, changes in Google's algorithm, and Yahoo soon replacing Google in its search engine results pages (SERPs), Janet wants to stay ahead of the curve.

In the past, SES conferences allowed her to network with and learn from search engine reps, industry experts, marketers, engineers, Webmasters, and business owners. Colleagues who referred her to this company were actually people she met at previous SES conferences. She'd like to attend the next conference but must convince boss to allow her to go.

She'd really like to keep up the friendships she's developed from attending past SES conferences. This time, she hopes to focus more on the conference itself, and the organic track in particular. She doesn't want to miss too much valuable information during the morning sessions because of the inevitable late-nights parties and time spent with colleagues.

Persona #3: Janet Smith

Janet is a 33 year old responsible for search engine marketing (SEM) at an interactive agency. She was recently promoted from media planner to SEM because of her methodical presentation of client documentation. She's still unsure about how to get more return on investment (ROI) from her current ad budget. In her previous position, she oversaw trafficking out ads. She has more direct contact with clients now and is certain she could manage their ad budgets more effectively.

One of the company's plans this year is to begin marketing to Hispanics. She's interested in an SES session that could help.

Persona #4: Janet Smith

Janet is a 34-year-old PR specialist. She partners with four other PR specialists and developed a business writing and sending out press releases almost guaranteed to be read. She describes her company as the best of the best because of the experience and flair of her company's people.

Although Janet's style ensures her press releases get read, sometimes in SERPs her press releases are buried below negative press about the company or product she's promoting. Janet wants to provide value to her clients and realizes her SEO skills aren't very good. A creative marketer, she's been in the PR industry for nearly 10 years and on the Web since '96. She's become a household name in her industry. She feels almost forced to learn how to optimize her press releases properly for search engines to remain the expert she is.

Personas as a Tool for Competitive Analysis of Web Sites

If we accept the above as realistic SES attendee personas, how would they influence the experience and content on the site? Make the effort to empathize with each one. Visit the current site, and experience it the way they might. Visit competitive conference sites, and compare each persona's experience. A competitive analysis from your visitor's point of view is more valuable than one from your own.

I look forward to meeting Janet Smith -- and you -- at New York Search Engine Strategies.

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Bryan Eisenberg

Bryan Eisenberg is co-founder and chief marketing officer (CMO) of IdealSpot. He is co-author of the Wall Street Journal, Amazon, BusinessWeek, and New York Times best-selling books Call to Action, Waiting For Your Cat to Bark?, and Always Be Testing, and Buyer Legends. Bryan is a keynote speaker and has keynoted conferences globally such as Gultaggen,, Direct Marketing Association, MarketingSherpa, Econsultancy, Webcom, the Canadian Marketing Association, and others for the past 10 years. Bryan was named a winner of the Marketing Edge's Rising Stars Awards, recognized by eConsultancy members as one of the top 10 User Experience Gurus, selected as one of the inaugural iMedia Top 25 Marketers, and has been recognized as most influential in PPC, Social Selling, OmniChannel Retail. Bryan serves as an advisory board member of several venture capital backed companies such as Sightly, UserTesting, Monetate, ChatID, Nomi, and BazaarVoice. He works with his co-author and brother Jeffrey Eisenberg. You can find them at

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